Training yourself to do something that feels unnatural is never easy, but it’s also never too late to learn an important skill. Balance is a focal point with our Active Aging population and something our residents are concerned with on a daily basis. Whether it be through designing exercise prescriptions to improve an individual’s balance, leading an educational presentation on aspects of balance, or leading a balance group fitness class, there are countless ways that we as professionals can attempt to help improve someone’s balance.
We recognize the importance of balance because the longer someone can maintain this skill, the longer they are able to remain independent. However, with all of this time, energy, and work dedicated to balance, I notice the same issue coming up consistently: residents are constantly looking down at their feet while they move.
The Lesson: Eyes Up!
When I moved to Virginia six years ago, I was finally in a place to fulfill a lifetime goal of mine: to own a motorcycle. I had no experience riding, I didn’t grow up around bikes, but I just was always fascinated by them and determined to learn to ride one. I am a cautious person, so before I did anything else, I participated in a Motorcycle Safety Foundation® Basic Rider course at a nearby community college. I learned many things during that course, but one lesson that has always stuck with me is instead of focusing on the road directly in front of your wheel, you should be looking down the road and keeping your eyes up. When you keep your eyes up and your focus ahead of you, you give yourself a valuable tool: time.
This is a lesson I work hard to get my residents to understand. When we walk, looking down at our feet gives us a sense of security that we know exactly where our foot is going to be and what our foot is going to land on, but it comes at a price. When our gaze is down at our feet, we can’t see what’s coming. We give ourselves very little time to identify a trip hazard in our path or to plan a route to avoid uneven or unstable surfaces. Much like riding a motorcycle, when you keep your eyes lifted, you give yourself more time to determine your best route because your brain has more time to process what you are seeing and plan accordingly.
Prepare for Balance Challenges
When we know that there are consequences to our actions, we often are very careful with those actions because we know what might result if we are careless. This awareness and concern has had the unfortunate effect of teaching us that we should fear falling and avoid it at all costs, so we look down at our feet. But just like riding a motorcycle, keeping your eyes up and looking well out in front of you may help you avoid obstacles, prepare for any balance challenges, and be safe through fall prevention.